COVID-19 wave sparks petition to bring back mandatory isolation to protect medically vulnerable

Posted 1 year ago by Alex Jacobs
The arrival of a new COVID-19 wave has sparked calls for mandatory isolation to return. [Source: Unsplash]
The arrival of a new COVID-19 wave has sparked calls for mandatory isolation to return. [Source: Unsplash]

A fourth COVID-19 wave is expected to reach its peak just before Christmas as case numbers surge across Australia, while a petition to reinstate mandatory isolation gathers momentum.

It has been almost five weeks since the Federal Government ended mandatory isolation requirements for most Australians, with health and disability care workers amongst those still required to isolate following a positive test.

The previous easing of restrictions left many people in the disability community feeling like an “afterthought” as advocates claimed it was “the end of freedom” for people with disability.

Now, case numbers are rising dramatically with more than 58,000 cases recorded nationally last week, as Omicron subvariants XBB and BQ.1 take hold and mutate with pre-existing variants.

After recording almost 6,000 cases, Queensland was prompted to move its COVID-19 traffic light advice system to amber, which recommends mask-wearing in healthcare settings, indoors, on public transport or if you are medically vulnerable or around people vulnerable to COVID-19.

Queensland is also calling on people with COVID-19 symptoms to take a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) every two days, or if someone in the same household tests positive.

Elsewhere, South Australia is calling on the public to wear masks in high-risk settings, including public transport and healthcare facilities.

The State and Federal Governments are all calling on the public to take precautions. Dr Kerry Chant, New South Wales’ Chief Health Officer, says case numbers will likely peak before Christmas.

“The wave is taking off with some trajectory, it will be quite a steep wave and hopefully the decline will be equally as steep,” says Ms Chant.

“There is a sense that the wave may well peak before Christmas and we may be on the decline [by then].

“But the message is clear, this is an increased risk period for COVID-19, so please, now is the time to take those protective behaviours.”

The heightened risk has led to a reinvigorated push for a petition on to reinstate mandatory COVID-19 isolation.

The petition currently has 13,000 signatures, and will be submitted to the National Cabinet at 20,000. A previous submission was made in October, soliciting “two standard replies” from the Government.

Campaign leader Kurt Friday says the replies were “an insult to those most affected”.

“Removing basic public health measures to curb infection has come at the worst time,” says Mr Friday.

“We are at the start of a new wave of COVID with variants that are more effective at evading existing immunity.

“Our most vulnerable Australians and their families are now living in fear and lonely exile.

“Shopping for food, going to work or hugging their grandkids are now high risk activities.

“The risk is not just to our most vulnerable, COVID-19 infection puts all Australians at risk of developing Long COVID, a serious and often debilitating set of health complications that affects five percent or more people who are infected, and outcomes are worse for successive infections.”

Health experts remain positive that the Omicron subvariants carry lower disease severity, although their high transmissibility continues to put people with disability and vulnerable people at risk.

Catherine Bennett, Deakin University chair in epidemiology, says we should expect to see more COVID-19 variants coexisting over the summer.

“It’s a fundamental shift in epidemiology and it is a challenge,” says Ms Bennett.

“Rolling waves are going to push the infection risk up from time to time … but what’s reassuring is hospital rates and death rates didn’t show the same spike with transmission [of new subvariants] overseas.”

The Government continues to urge the public to remain up to date with all vaccinations, in line with age and medical recommendations, to remain best protected against serious illness or death.

People with disability who have received their fourth or fifth COVID-19 vaccine, depending on eligibility requirements, will have to wait until at least January 2023 for approval on the next booster dose.

Currently, just over 42 percent of the eligible population have received their fourth dose, including severely immunocompromised individuals that are eligible for a fifth dose.

The vaccinated figures include 32.1 percent of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants aged 16+ with at least four doses, and 69.6 percent of NDIS participants aged 12-15 with at least two doses.